Naval Air Station Whiting Field commanding officer, Capt. Paul Bowdich, and commanding officer of Helicopter Training Squadron-8, Cmdr. Jessica Parker, fly for the first time at the Navy’s newest outlying landing field Wednesday morning. (Lt.j.g. Ashley Koenig / U.S. Navy)
The Navy’s newest outlying landing field opened for helicopter training operations on Jan. 30, the culmination of years of collaboration between Escambia County, Florida, and the U.S. Navy.
Escambia County turned over to the Navy outlying landing field (OLF) Site X in Santa Rosa County, and the Navy ceased operations Jan. 29 at NOLF Site 8 in Escambia County after nearly 80 years of training aviators at the site.
The exchange was authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, and the Navy and Escambia County signed a land exchange agreement to formalize their intentions in June 2016.
Commanding officer of Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Capt. Paul Bowdich, U.S. Navy and Training Air Wing Five commodore, Col. Dave Morris, U.S. Marine Corps, cut the ribbon to the Navy’s newest outlying landing field, Site X. (Susan Bird / U.S. Navy)
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was attended by representatives from the Navy, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Rear Adm. Bette Bolivar, commander of Navy Region Southeast, called the exchange a “landmark event” and praised the cooperation between military installations and communities.
“Never before has a fully functional and vital military airfield been exchanged for a newly constructed airfield that meets the same capabilities and training requirements," Bolivar said at the ceremony. "This is a monumental achievement to have brought this ambitious plan to fruition."
The new outlying landing field, Site X, is located “about half the distance as compared to Site 8,” said Training Air Wing Commodore Col. Dave Morris, who leads aviation training at NAS Whiting Field. “This field is an example of the community's tremendous involvement in supporting the training of our future aviators. We couldn't ask for better partners than we have in Escambia and Santa Rosa County.”
Site X has two raised earth platforms that provide students with tactical practice landing on a small raised surface, according to the Navy. It also contains a confined area landing feature for aviators to practice landing in tight areas surrounded by a wall of trees.
NAS Whiting Field supports all initial helicopter training for the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps, as well as approximately 60 percent of primary fixed-wing flight training, according to the Navy.
The Navy recently released its final request for proposals (RFP) for its new training helicopter, with plans to divest its entire TH-57 Sea Ranger fleet, manufactured by Bell, by 2023. The service plans to start buying new trainers in fiscal 2020.